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Rebels on the Air: An Alternative History of Radio in America First Edition Edition

6 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0814793817
ISBN-10: 0814793819
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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Contemporary mainstream radio offers very little diversity; play lists are chosen in corporate offices, and stations across the country sound very similar. An associate editor for Reason magazine, Walker argues that government collusion with big business for decades is responsible for reducing variety and eliminating dissident voices in radio broadcasting. Opening his history of alternative radio with the amateur operators in the early 1900s, he shows that as soon as the first regulations were passed in the Radio Act of 1912, pirate stations began defying the rules. Walker de0ions that pushed the limits of radio broadcasting (both legally and illegally), documents the history of the Pacifica Foundation and the community radio movement of the 1960s and 1970s, and ends with some open questions about the future of micro radio and the potential of the Internet. The use of interviews and anecdotes brings life to this history. Both academics and radio enthusiasts will appreciate this book. Judy Solberg, George Washington Univ. Lib., Washington, DC
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.


"The book is a great addition to the literature of the ways in which the state uses regulatory edicts and strong-arm tactics to stifle people's freedom."

-George C. Leef,Freedom Daily

"Present-day American radio—both public and commercial—has, with its blandness, hidden the bodies of hundreds of idealists who tried to make it meaningful and interesting and alive. Whether it's micro radio, pirate radio, the Citizens Band, or Pacifica, Jesse Walker has done his homework, digging up often funny tales of strange characters who tried, in one way or another, to better the airwaves."

-Lorenzo W. Milam,author of Sex and Broadcasting and the Radio Papers

"Rebels on the Air is a joyous, smart, lucid, hilarious, critical and engaging celebration of community based, non-commercial radio in the United States. Jesse Walker vividly captures the people, their visions and achievements, their friends and enemiesall in a book that is great fun to read.”

-Matthew Lasar,author of Pacifica Radio: The Rise of an Alternative Network

"Throughout Rebels on the Air: An Alternative History of Radio in America, Walker surveys the current state of radio and finds it wanting.”


"Without a doubt, this is the most detailed and well-researched book ever published on the history of free radio in America. This includes the most comprehensive history ever written on the modern microradio movement; culled from personal interviews, the writing is mostly engaging and fast-paced...A must read."

-The About Guide

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 326 pages
  • Publisher: NYU Press; First Edition edition (September 4, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0814793819
  • ISBN-13: 978-0814793817
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,045,440 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jesse Walker is the books editor of Reason magazine and the author of Rebels on the Air: An Alternative History of Radio in America. He lives in Baltimore with his wife and their two daughters.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 33 people found the following review helpful By "rab_42" on November 26, 2001
Format: Hardcover
So many other radio 'history' books just tell you all about what programs were on which corporate network and which DJs were indicted for payola -- without bothering to explore how radio broadcasting came about, where the innovations came from, and how and why most of the current spectrum has become so bland in the last twenty years. Jesse Walker gets into all this and more: he gives just about the best and most complete history of radio broadcasting's *true* pioneers, from spark-gap to internet: the underground and alternative radio movement. I thought I knew a lot about the subject (at least regarding pre-1980 radio), but Walker's book has five times more in it than I even knew existed -- and extends right to the end of the 1990s. I highly recommend this book!
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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Houyhnhnm on October 15, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Is radio doomed by the Internet? When was its golden age? Is it a triumph of capitalist business or government planning?
In the course of telling tale after absorbing tale, Jesse Walker answers these questions and dozens of others in "Rebels on the Air."
Unlike most people who talk on the radio, however, Walker writing about radio doesn't come across as a simpleton. He is a very thoughtful appreciator of excellence as well as a fine diagnostician of failure. He understands the theory of radio as a business enterprise, and is unencumbered by a narrow ideology. He knows what happened; he is a master of fact. And he has insight into what might have happened; he is the master of the counterfactual. Further, being informed and no fool, he is as reliable prophet as any; it pays to listen to what he says.
From the beginnings of radio as point-to-point communication through its strange evolution to broadcasting, winding up in recent dispensations of "piracy," micro radio, community radio, and even the Citizens Band, Walker ushers the reader through a rogue's gallery of fascinating revolutionaries. Radio, it turns out, is not just a humdrum affair. It has featured strange people saying odd, perceptive and occasionally wise things, playing music other than top 40 or classical warhorses, turning listeners on their ears.
To most people, commercial radio and NPR delimit the narrow confines of the medium: to these, Walker's history will come as a revelation. To the knowing few who have heard (or at least heard of) Firesign Theater or Jean Shepherd or The Crazy Cajun Show, Walker is a sensible surveyor of diversity on radio, the ideal defender of both idiosyncratic entertainment and responsible "enlightenment."
Radio may usually be boring, but Walker's book is not. For anyone who cares about the medium or its messages, "Rebels on the Air" is indispensable.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Scarecrow Repair on October 30, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Two things surprised me about this book. One is the level of detail. I was especially intrigued by the history of the early days, how radio began as point-to-point communications because there were so few receivers (so obvious the instant I read it :-), and how all the usual suspects began sticking their regulatory fingers all over it and delaying and distorting its development and expansion. But all chapters are like this, so full of detail that you have to read it slowly and carefully, which brings me to the second surprise: it's really well written. There are Dan Brown page turners, where you don't mind skimming in order to read it fast because most of the details don't affect the conclusion or are red herrings. Some books are well-written, easy to read, and chock full of interesting stuff but you don't mind setting them down pretty much anywhere because they don't compel you to keep on keeping on. And now I have a new class, the Jesse Walker page turner, which I find myself reluctant to pick up because I know I will want to keep on reading and know that even when a good breaking point appears, even if it is end of a chapter, I want to keep on reading because I know I will find more fascinating material to read. This is a terrible book to bring on errands, such as waiting for a front end alignment; better to save for a time when you won't be interrupted at any random place. Save Dan Brown for those situations.
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